Every once in a while, fashion turns inside out. Impatient with irony, its latest writ is literal: underwear is now outerwear. On runways, models trooped out in their knickers, bared their bras and by proxy, retired old notions of decency. Miu Miu famously led the charge, debuting a pantless look with its fall/winter 2023 collection.
This was promptly followed by Bottega Veneta in the spring of that year. Prada, Prabal Gurung, Chanel, and Christian Siriano soon joined their ranks and the agenda reached its climax at Miu Miu’s leggy fall/winter 2023 show. Backstage, Mrs Prada summarily declared: “If I were younger, I would go out in panties!” The final looks were an undisguised statement of intent and a trio of spangled undies, sans tights, closed out the show.
The messaging at the show was typically ambiguous and a frazzled mood dominated the room. Models had their hair teased into harried flyaways and their faces appeared unpainted and sleepy. Yet, they walked with airy swagger, one arm out, handbag nestled pointedly in the crook of the arm.
If Miu Miu’s rulebook is anything to go by, the liberated undergarment, then, is less erotic than it is poised. It hints at the confidence of one who dares to bare all—frizz, knickers and fatigue, to be exact. Psychologically, it feels closer to the mettle one grows after years of choosing to go out bare-faced than the y2k “whale tail,” where a high-waisted thong is paired with low rise bottoms to expose two titillating straps.
Of course, runway trends tend to be either gimmicky or ponderous; fun to dissect yet difficult to wear. Which is why it’s surprising how much resonance the look has found on the ground. Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber and Bella Hadid have all had viral pantless outings. The quartet have stayed faithful to runway briefs, choosing full-coverage undies—more comfortable than suggestive—paired with modest tops. Most recently, Jenner showed up to a Met Gala afterparty in a tight black thong layered over a Nensi Dojaka playsuit.
Influencers of all proportions, from Camille Charriere to Mary Higham, have joined the fray too, documenting their pantie-jaunts with glee. Their poses are blasé and their reflections indignant. Higham’s post of herself clad in drawers and a corset under a velvet coat read: “She decided to…live her life without regard for other people’s small opinions.” To one nay-saying commentor, Charriere retorted: “mieux vaut en culotte que sans culotte (better with panties than without).”
Then again, the popularity of briefs shouldn’t be surprising, for we live in an age of endless confession. You could say social media has made exhibitionists of us all and a little flashing is par for the course. The same impulse to reveal underpins auto-fiction, a genre of literature that draws heavily from the real lives of its authors. Its popularity has exploded in the last five years and seems to have infiltrated our approach to dressing. If the details of our lives are profound, even literary, then our clothes cannot be merely incidental. They have to say something true and urgent about us. In that vein, drawers seem to shout: Look at me! I am at home in the world!
So, why now? True fashion aficiniados know that this trend isn’t new. Gucci tried it for spring/summer 2018 to much less success. And who can forget its pop culture cameo? A bejewelled gold pair on the hips of Carrie Bradshaw as she walks the runway in an early episode of Sex and the City. In 2001, Carrie balks at the sight of the knickers: “I can’t wear jewelled underwear! I’’m a writer!” But those were pre-pandemic, pre-auto-fiction times. After that trying interlude, it seems people are more willing to question old codes and more eager than ever before not just to be seen, but to be known. Just don’t let your clothes get in the way.